There were whoops of joy in Whitehaven when they were drawn at home in the Betfred Challenge Cup against the cup holders St Helens, tempered by the knowledge that they had a snowball´s chance in hell of progressing through to the quarter finals.
Despite their being twenty places between them in the league structure, St Helens reacted to last weeks defeat in Toulouse by putting out a very strong side to make sure that there were no mistakes in their quest for a place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the showpiece final.
Whitehaven were given a fifty-four point start on the coupon and many of the five thousand of so packed into the Recreation Ground were hoping that their Marras side would be able to put up more of a fight or the most optimistic among them even dare to hope for one of the biggest cup upsets of all time.
Two early mistakes from Saints gave Whitehaven the hopes of making an early impression but they couldn´t find their way over the whitewash. On eight minutes there was a lengthy delay while second rower Liam Cooper was put in a neck brace and stretchered from the field after failing to regain his feet following an awkward tackle.
There had been little to choose between the two sides in the opening twenty minutes, but as the clock ticked over the end of the first quarter a short Lewis Dodd pass found Joe Batchelor to go ten metres and drop over the line for the game´s opening try. Tommy Makinson added the conversion to edge the visitors into an early lead.
On the half hour the Saints were in for their second with Curtis Sironen spotting a gap and rounding behind the sticks. Makinson added the extras from under the sticks for 12-0, the Saints quality finally fighting its way to the surface.
Three minutes before the interval the Whitehaven born lad Kyle Amor took a Lussick no-look pass to jink his way to the line for a four pointer by the posts. Makinson added the extras for 18-0, the Saints with one foot in the next round after being on the back foot for much of the half but finishing their chances where their opponents couldn´t.
Incredibly Whitehaven scored the first try of the second half with Karl Dixon finding the smallest of gaps down the left wing after taking a King offload and going ten metres to score. An awful attempt at the conversion from Alex Bishop got nowhere near the uprights, the Marras 4-18 behind.
On fifty-three, and after Amor went close to getting his second, Dan Norman took the pass and dove in for a try, Makinson added the conversion for 24-4.
On fifty-six it was all too easy with Lewis Dodd coasting down the middle of the field off a Joey Lussick pass. Makinson was once again on target for 30-4.
A messy try from Mark Percival on sixty-five, getting his hands on a fumbled Lewis kick through. Makinson was off target for the first time in the game.
Six minutes from the final hooter Lussick found his way through the increasingly tired Whitehaven defence with a scoot from acting half back. Makinson kicked the conversion to bring up the forty.
On the final hooter Dodd managed to flick the ball back into play as he chased down a grubber kick and the ball went straight into the hands of James Roby to dot down for the last try of the game. Makinson added the conversion for a final score of 46-4.
All credit to Whitehaven who were more than a match for their visitors for large parts of the game but in the end the full-timer, champions and cup holders were just far too strong for the side from halfway down the championship as they cruised to the win. ´Haven stayed well within the bookies handicap and will be proud of their efforts while the Saints will know that they have avoided the potential banana skin and secured cup progress.
Whitehaven: Doyle, Eccleston, Evans, Holliday, Bulman, Dixon (T), Williams, McAvoy, Bishop, Graham King, Cooper, Wilkinson. Subs: Phillips, Aiye, Bradley, Walker.
St Helens: Welsby, Grace, Hurrell, Percival (T), Makinson (6G), Lomax, Dodd, Paasi, Lussick (T), McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Batchelor (T), Sironen (T), Wingfield. Subs: Roby (T), Amor (T), Norman, Royle.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-12, 0-16, 0-18 : HT : 4-18, 4-22, 4-24, 4-28, 4-30, 4-34, 4-38, 4-40, 4-44, 4-46 : FT.
Referee: Tom Grant.